Heather Fawcett’s previous book, The Language of Ghosts was one of the many I read and took notes on during the Cybils last year, with full intentions of writing a review. I didn’t even include it on my list of books I hadn’t reviewed, because I was so sure I was going to get to it. Alas, I did not – but if this book sounds good, that one, involving orphaned siblings and exciting sea voyages, will probably also appeal to you. And this book was published on October 24, making it eligible for next year’s Cybils.
The School Between
Winter and Fairyland
by Heather Fawcett
Balzer + Bray, 2021
Review copy kindly received from the publisher. Ebook and audiobook available on Libby.
Autumn lives with her Gran and older brothers in a tiny cottage on the grounds of Inglenook School in what feels like a Welsh-inspired country, where generations of her family have cared for the magical creatures that the wizards in training at the school use for practices. Autumn has stompy and perpetually muddy boots, a stubborn streak a mile long, and is the favorite human of the family’s boggart. But though she’s always longed to go to the school herself, she’s never seriously challenged the society that tells her that she’s destined to follow her family’s chosen career.
Instead, she persists in looking for her twin brother, who vanished nearly a year ago. One of his boots was found, slightly charred, in the ever-expanding, ever less-friendly Gentlewood, but the limited searching the wizards were willing to do for him didn’t find anything more. Everyone else, even Gran and her other brothers, tells Autumn that Winter is dead, probably eaten by the fearsome Hollow Dragon. Autumn can tell he’s still alive, though, and has sensed his presence in various places around the castle. But even with Boggart helping her search, they haven’t been able to find anything.
So when Cai Morrigan, the famous student who has been prophesied to kill the Hollow Dragon, asks for her help in overcoming his dragon phobia, she agrees to help him despite not having any use for those stuck-up students. Surely the most talented student at the school will be able to find some clues!
The scenes of Autumn and her life – poor, but filled with mostly unspoken love, pranks, and fantastic creatures – are intercut with scenes from Winter’s point of view, trapped in a place he doesn’t understand and struggling to remember who he is. And so as Autumn, Boggart and Cai are hunting for him, we can also see the urgency grow as Winter’s sense of self gets ever blurrier.
Sibling rescue and chosen-by-prophecy stories are rather common, but both Winter’s predicament and Cai’s destiny are pleasantly twisty and unpredictable. And though all the major characters read as white, class privilege plays a large role in the story, including Autumn’s family ability to speak to magical beasts not being considered real magic, and most students at the school being open about thinking that all servants are basically worthless idiots. So, while I generally prefer books that reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the world I live in, this is a reminder that people always find reasons to justify prejudice, while still being a delightful fantasy.
Check out my Magical Middle School list for even more stories of magic and school.